Five of seven Chapel Hill Town Council members endorsed Mayor Pam Hemminger for reelection, and cited distrust for challenger and current Town Council member Hongbin Gu.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Parker and council members Jess Anderson, Tai Huynh, Amy Ryan and Karen Stegman all announced their support for Hemminger.
Council member Allen Buansi said he does not endorse any candidate for mayor. Buansi is running for N.C. State House, so he is not seeking reelection to the town council.
Town Council members don't always endorse a candidate for mayor, Anderson said. However, she added that this year, every member who will remain on the council after the election thought it was important enough to endorse Hemminger.
Anderson is worried that Gu would not work with the council if elected as mayor, but she encouraged Gu to run for council again in the future.
“I think she is an important voice on the council," Anderson said. "I think she often brings a perspective and ideas that aren’t already there. I am disturbed by the fact that she is saying some things about our council and about Mayor Hemminger that I know are not true and I hope she knows aren’t true.”
Some council members also have reservations about Gu becoming mayor. Anderson said Gu cited faulty information when she spoke out against the approval of luxury apartments and discussed the town’s financial position.
“We can disagree on policy, but we can’t disagree on fact," Anderson said. "Especially in 2021, it is incredibly important to make sure we are giving the public accurate information to the best of our ability, and if our attorneys or our staff tell us something is not possible that we don’t go and tell the public that we can do those things."
While she has been encouraging community members to watch forums and read questionnaires to make their own decision on Election Day, Anderson hopes the council members’ endorsement will influence the public.
“If the public chooses to go a different direction, I am not sure that I have a lot of confidence that it would be a very collaborative situation," Anderson said. “I am not sure that it would cause conflict, but I am sure there would have to be some relationship rebuilding should Council Member Gu win.”
Hemminger was also endorsed by the NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro Action Fund, an organization that aims to promote economic opportunities and a diverse community as well as expand local housing choices, according to their website.
“We endorsed the mayor because she is more in line with the values we hold for NEXT," NEXT board member Molly De Marco said. "Council Member Gu just did not align with those values and we haven't seen, over the last four years, that she is aligned with what we are trying to promote for Chapel Hill.”
Gu said she is running for mayor because she believes that Chapel Hill is at a critical point of change, and is concerned about the construction of luxury apartments, among other issues.
In the past, Gu said she has disagreed with other council members and Hemminger over construction projects that she believed made Chapel Hill more car-centric.
“Of course I can run for the council again, but I just don’t feel that that is very effective to really set a new direction for the town — to make the town willing to become a place that is inclusive, that’s green, that’s resilient for everyone in this community,” Gu said.
Gu was endorsed by Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT), an organization that works to protect the “green leafy college town character” of Chapel Hill and promote "growth that is resilient in the face of climate change," according to their website.
Gu added that CHALT is controversial among many community members in Chapel Hill, and that her vision for the town does not align exactly with their policies.
“A lot of people just assume that because I am endorsed by CHALT that I agree with everything about CHALT’s position,” Gu said.
She said she agrees with those who say that CHALT should include more diverse members in their organization to better represent the larger community.
Gu said the council members’ announcement of an endorsement for mayor shortchanges the democratic process and takes some of the power from the community.
“We have a lot of opportunities by serving on the council to make those important decisions for the town,” Gu said. “But I think the election is the time for the voters, by their own individual votes, to let us know the direction that they want to go.”
Early voting is available until Oct. 30, and Election Day is on Nov. 2.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.